Pandemic-induced telehealth boom transforms health care and pharma arena
By Sharon Lawrence
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of the health care and pharmaceutical industry, forcing companies to reevaluate the entirety of their operations. One of the most profound consequences of the pandemic is telehealth — the ability of consumers and providers to exchange information via telecommunications technologies — and wearable electronic devices such as heart monitors and smartwatches, often eliminating or delaying the need for in-office visits.
Many health care researchers believe that by 2040, most care will be delivered at home, in outpatient settings or virtually. Adapting to this new way of care — in terms of supplies and delivery methods — will require relationships with different types of vendors, such as retailers, contract employees and technology providers. The challenge lies in reimagining supply chains that can deliver nonhospital-based care in a safe and cost-effective way manner.
According to a Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Cos., 81% of those surveyed who discussed telehealth options with a health care professional during COVID said they would be comfortable using telehealth to manage their care. Almost half — 47% — of those who have discussed telehealth services with a health care professional during COVID reported an increased likelihood of scheduling a necessary surgery or medical procedure if they had the option of staying connected with their health care professional via telehealth before or after the procedure.
Opening digital doors
In response to the burgeoning adaptation of telehealth platforms by patients and providers, many health care and pharmaceutical companies have rolled out new services.
In June, Merck & Co. Inc. and Facebook Inc. introduced the Alliance for Advancing Health Online, an initiative to advance public understanding of how social media, online engagement and behavioral sciences can be leveraged to improve the health and resilience of communities around the world. Merck and Facebook have each committed $20 million to this multiyear initiative, which will initially focus on addressing vaccine hesitancy and vaccine equity with a strong focus on historically excluded or marginalized communities. While the initial focus of research supported will be on COVID vaccinations, the alliance intends to create a global network of centers of social media and health research focused on improving health behavior via online platforms.
Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Cos. launched My Health Can’t Wait, an online resource hub aimed at encouraging people to prioritize their health. Myhealthcantwait.com provides patients with resources and information to communicate with their health care providers about prioritizing needed care.
Ashley McEvoy, executive vice president, worldwide chairman, medical devices, said, “Through My Health Can’t Wait, we hope to provide patients and health care providers with resources to help stay connected and prioritize their health care, both during this pandemic and in the future.”
In 2020, the pandemic inspired CVS Health Corp. to launch E-Clinic, a telehealth solution for its MinuteClinics, which conducted nearly 20,000 visits. It also opened 650 HealthHUB locations which — in addition to offering a broad range of in-store health services — provides online streams of wellness and nutrition content in place of in-person classes.
“CVS Health emerged from 2020 better positioned to improve health care for the millions of people who depend on us,” said President and CEO Karen Lynch. “We believe virtual engagement with our HealthHUB locations will only continue to accelerate and will build our future offerings to beyond brick-and-mortar locations.”
Earlier this year, Boston Scientific Corp. acquired Preventice Solutions Inc., the maker of wearable cardiac sensors for remote patient monitoring. Scott Olson, senior vice president and president, rhythm management, said the acquisition is intended to flesh out the medical tech company’s broader push into the cardiac diagnostics and services space. Specifically, Preventice’s ambulatory electrocardiogram business would sit alongside Boston Scientific’s recent exploration into the complementary implantable cardiac monitor space.
“We are confident that, by adding the broad technology portfolio and expertise of Preventice, our combined teams can continue to deliver rapid growth in these highly attractive markets while also establishing an important adjacency to our core cardiac rhythm management and electrophysiology businesses,” he added.
Suppliers, take note
The global market for emerging medical device technologies is expected to grow to $146.2 billion by 2025, up from $81.9 billion in 2020. For suppliers, much is still unknown. Consumers will continue to expect care to be available when and how it’s most convenient and safe for them which includes virtual care, at-home prescription delivery, remote monitoring, digital diagnostics and decision support.
According to David Gillan, senior vice president of emerging solutions and supplier engagement at Vizient Inc., “Treating or triaging patients at home could mean that suppliers will have to shift where they send and service medical products.” The shift could also mean making smaller, consumer-friendly devices that monitor vital signs from home, and that agility, innovation and knowledge of advances is vital.
“We will continue to see the emergence of virtual care solutions across the care continuum from telehealth visits to virtual hospital care and home-based care,” he added. “It will be important for suppliers throughout the supply chain to align their virtual strategy with the changing needs of their markets and growth strategy, along with evolving payment models and [providing] a natural progression to support providers and patients in a more meaningful way.”
Ashley McEvoy, executive vice president, worldwide chairman, medical devices, Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices